Editor's note: This story was updated on October 12, 2017.
Running is normally a sport for the young and healthy, but a decline in millennial participation has ended a 20-year rise in footrace participants, Rachel Bachman reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The high point of competitive running was in 2013, when a record 19 million people finished a footrace, according to Running USA, an industry-funded research group. But in the number of race finishers declined slightly in 2014, followed by a 9 percent drop last year, the group found.
Much of the drop, Bachman writes, is attributable to millennials—those born between 1981 and 1997. Millennials in 2015 made up just 33 percent of footrace finishers, down 2 percentage points from 2014.
The number of frequent runners—both those who do and don't run competitively—has dropped as well, and again the trend is most pronounced among millennials. Between 2013 and 2015, the number of adults who run 50 or more times a year dropped 11 percent overall, including by:
- 22 percent among those ages 18 to 24; and
- 19 percent among those ages 25 to 34.
Meanwhile, the number of frequent runners dropped by just 4 percent among those ages 35 to 44, and it increased slightly for other age groups.
Even nontraditional running events, which had more finishers in 2013 than marathon and half marathons combined, have been faltering. Color run participation, a popular untimed 5K, dropped from 975,000 participants to 780,000 last year.
Running is still popular: More than 48 million people reported they ran at least once in 2015. But the cost to enter a race is rising, and some industry experts say that cost, rather than a lack of interest, could be fueling millennials' exit.
"Once these millennials start their families and hit their professional stride in terms of earning potential, they're going to come back to this sport," says Running USA CEO Rich Harshbarger.
Millennials aren't eschewing all forms of exercise. Rather, they're driving the boom in boutique studios that offer classes for activities such as cycling or weightlifting, Bachman writes.
ClassPass, a popular service that allows members to choose from a range of fitness classes in their city, booked 18 million reservations in less than three years, most of which were for people in their 20s.
The popularity of such services may show that millennials are more interested in exploring a variety of new experiences and healthy activities, says John Connors, VP of product development with The Color Run.
"They're pushing back on [just one exercise], in a sense saying, 'Don't classify me that way,'' he says. "'I don't run 5Ks because I'm a runner. I run 5Ks because I like to be fit'" ("Morning Edition," Memphis Business Journal, 5/9; Bachman, Wall Street Journal, 5/5).
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